The importance of regional airports in meeting growing demand for air travel is being stressed as debate rages over Heathrow being backed for a third runway by the Airports Commission.
The Sir Howard Davies report also put a spotlight on the opportunity presented to other UK airports in the coming decade as a result of existing capacity constraints in the southeast.
Bristol airport chief executive Robert Sinclair highlighted the role of regional airports in response to the Commission’s findings.
“The battle between London’s airports has dominated the UK aviation sector for too long, and it’s time to recognise that, for many passengers across the country, there is another option in the shape of resurgent regional airports like Bristol,” he said.
But Sinclair added: “We are concerned that proposals for an Independent Aviation Noise Authority and accompanying noise levy - which are clearly designed to limit the negative impacts of a third runway at Heathrow - should not be rolled out at other UK airports where they will simply impose unnecessary costs.
“In our view, existing structures and approaches strike the right balance for regional airports, with local environmental impacts best resolved at a local level.”
Bristol airport (pictured) has planning permission to handle up to 10 million passengers a year against 6.3 million today, Luton airport is to expand its facilities and Manchester airport is attracting increased numbers of long-haul flights.
“While London airports are locked in dispute over how and where to expand, regional airports are taking steps to serve their local markets more effectively,” said Sinclair.
“Howard Davies and his Commission have done a thorough job in assessing capacity requirements in the southeast, but it is important that while considering the recommendations the government does not lose sight of the role airports outside London can play during what is likely to be a long, drawn out process.
“We are in the process of creating more efficient, comfortable and attractive facilities which will offer passengers from the south-west and Wales a world-class airport experience on their doorstep.
“Alongside improved surface access resulting from major transport developments in the west of England, this will enable us to win back many of the six million passengers from this region who fly from London airports every year, freeing up capacity in the south-east at the same time.”
Liverpool John Lennon airport believes an expanded Heathrow would offer the opportunity for other UK airports to further grow their networks, something that is crucial for generating growth across the whole country, not just London and the southeast.
Chief executive, Andrew Cornish, said: "Liverpool John Lennon airport welcomes this news and now urges the government to give the go ahead of this important expansion of Heathrow so that regional airports such as Liverpool can soon benefit too by the opening up of access to the UK’s hub airport for improved worldwide connectivity."
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “This debate has never been about a runway, it’s been about the future we want for Britain. Expanding Heathrow will keep Liverpool and the whole northwest at the heart of the global economy.
“We will create the world’s best connected, most efficient and most environmentally responsible hub airport at the heart of an integrated transport system.
“The Commission has backed a positive and ambitious vision for Britain. We’re ready to connect Liverpool to global growth at the earliest opportunity and will now work with the government to deliver it.”
Meanwhile, industry reaction to the Commission’s recommendations included Guild of Travel Management Companies chief executive Paul Wait.
He said: “It is encouraging to see the Commission recognises the value of increased airport capacity to the future growth of the UK economy and the recommendation of a third runway at Heathrow is hugely positive news for business travellers, TMCs and UK PLC.
“Our own research within the business travel community proves there is a very real and present need for airport expansion in the south east. Indeed over a third (36%) back expansion at Heathrow, whilst a quarter supported the idea of expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick.
“Expansion at Heathrow will realise the ambition of direct routes to long-haul and, more importantly, emerging markets – therefore negating the need to travel via other hubs across Europe which has been a long standing issue as a barrier to international trade.
“With the focus on Heathrow it is also important to recognise the role that Gatwick can play in delivering additional capacity. Whilst it does have capacity for long haul there is often a reliance on connecting hubs which means business travel is more of a challenge.
“Our own election manifesto called on the new government to adopt the recommendations of the Airports Commission as policy as soon as it reported. That time is now and with the positive recommendations in place we look forward to swift and decisive action that will turn those recommendations into reality.”
James Stamp, global head of aviation at KPMG, urged the government not to delay a decision on airport expansion.
“A significant amount of time, effort, and energy has been spent at arriving at the conclusions,” he said.
“Strong account has been taken with the need to meet EU air pollution limits, address noise pollution concerns and move most ground traffic from road to rail. What must happen is action by the politicians: further delay would significantly damage UK plc.
“In context, the UK has not built a full-length runway in the southeast since World War 2. Our neighbours in the EU have overtaken us - Frankfurt, Paris, and Amsterdam already have much more runway capacity.
“What this means is that we’re losing out in the global connectivity race: Paris already offers 50% more flights to China than London, for example. This is significant, because by 2025 there will be 7,000 new $1 billion companies globally, and nearly seven in 10 will be in emerging economies. If we want to connect with these we have to act.
“With the world’s biggest cities planning 50 new runways by 2036, allowing for one billion new passenger journeys, we simply can’t afford any further political delay.
“Given that Dubai will soon have more capacity than all of London’s airports combined, it is clear that expansion of airport capacity in the southeast is a must.
“The world is watching to see if London and the UK has the ambition to maintain its position as a global trading hub – we’re losing ground to our competitors, and further political delay would be unacceptable.”
John Grant, executive vice president at OAG, warned: “We are still a long way from a clear decision on whether a third runway will actually happen.
“Now the Airports Commission report has been released, the issue has become a much more technical and political discussion, particularly as the report has included caveats on noise and the environment.”
He added: “It is all very well to say flights can’t land at Heathrow before 6am, but flights originating from Asia, based on current OAG schedules data, would require very unsocial early morning departure times or have to be held over Heathrow for around an hour, which will have more of an environmental burden than if the aircraft could land immediately.
“The good thing about this report is that it takes out the emotional and local arguments and is now about economic measure and return.
“Politicians need to make up their minds and get on with it – we are still at least 10 years away from having new airlift capacity in London and the south-east while the rest of the world marches on.”
Chris Clarkson, managing director of Sunshine.co.uk, said: "As the extra runway would mean a quarter of a million more flights every year, this would be very good for the UK economy and also for holidaymakers looking to travel abroad.
"More flight times and options will surely mean better deals, perhaps making holidays even more accessible to the masses. I think this can only be a positive thing; despite the disruption that would be unavoidable whilst the runway was being built."
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